Nostalgia is a sweet ailment. Only twisted minds savour the bitter-sweet taste of past. But, sometimes, it is all you can do. Especially when you get to stay in your home town again.
Staying in this idyllic city of Nangal made my childhood an extraordinary experience.
But, I didn’t know it at that time. I was busy daydreaming about the “perfect adult life”. Yet, I still had moments of absolute calm and happiness:
an adventurous hike to the school, cycling around the beautiful town lined by the gigantic river Satluj, the hospital nearby where we played hide and seek (maternity ward is the safest spot!), a passionate Biology teacher who took us to multiple bio-hikes (he could tell the name of each and every plant in the town and beyond), and a teacher of English literature who didn’t just read poetry.
He savoured every word of a poem, created a big spectacle out of it, and made me fall in love with English literature every single day.
I remember a poem that he narrated to us. It felt like the poem was the only thing that mattered at that moment.
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes:
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, And the highwayman came riding— …”
“The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor”, has stayed with me for longer than I imagined. But the best was yet to come;
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, Then look for me by moonlight, Watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
I can still hear the suppressed giggling of my classmates when he decided to dramatically blow a kiss.
I guess that’s what nostalgia is all about! Many of my classmates have gone ahead, and became engineers and doctors.
Yet I still find myself there, sitting in that class over and over again : awestruck, giggling, trying to memorise every single word in the “Oxford dictionary”, and falling in love with poetry as we know it.
The epic movie “Dead poet’s society” is as close as it can get, to the kind of passionate childhood we got to live. Sir Prasad to me, is an epitome of the art of teaching, and in his own ways, he clearly conveyed the “secret” to those of us who were listening:
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.
And the human race is filled with passion.
And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
“To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’
Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?”
The question is still relevant,.“What will your verse be?”
It was a usual day in the library. For the first time in life, I finally knew what I yearned for: knowledge & a place where there’s plenty of it: university’s library.
A.C. Joshi Library, located in the Panjab university, is not for the casual students. It is a “respite for soul” place for the curious ones. The ones who want to know it all. The ones with insatiable hunger for more!
Though I was a post-graduate student at that time, the name “Khalil Gibran” (or Kahlil Gibran) didn’t ring any bells. But the word “Lebanese” poet aroused some curiosity, and that’s how I opened the first page.
And then I couldn’t put it down for a moment – read it while eating, in the class, in the hostel common room, almost everywhere. There it was, one of the most enchantingly romantic works one could read, “The Broken Wings: Khalil Gibran“.
A take on spiritual love, with its purity intact, The Broken Wings is like an intense lyric, the depths of which are unfathomable to a mortal being. Here’s an excerpt from the text:
“Every young man remembers his first love and tries to recapture that strange hour, the memory of which changes his deepest feeling and makes him so happy in spite of all the bitterness of its mystery…
Today, after many years have passed, I’ve nothing left out of that beautiful dream except painful memories flapping like invisible wings around me, filling the depths of my heart with sorrow, and bringing tears to my eyes; and my beloved, beautiful Selma, is dead and nothing is left to commemorate her except my broken heart and tomb surrounded by cypress trees. That tomb and this heart are all that is left to bear witness of Selma.
The silence that guards the tomb does not reveal God’s secret in the obscurity of the coffin, and the rustling of the branches whose roots suck the body’s elements do not tell the mysteries of the grave, by the agonized sighs of my heart announce to the living the drama which love, beauty, and death have performed. “
The tragedy of love is beautifully captured in the masterpiece. But love’s not the only facet of Gibran’s work. Another classic, “The Prophet”, discusses practical answers to spiritual & philosophical aspects of daily life. Matters of marriage, death, talking, children, giving, etc. are touched upon with soft-soothing words, showing his creative genius in the poetic form.
Here’s an excerpt from “On Talking” by Khalil Gibran:
“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips,
And sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly…
There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape… “